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E-Mail Etiquette

It is a fact that within the 21st century workplace, the e-mail is the most prevalent form of written communication. In many ways it has made life much easier as for example, in the world of business because of e-mail, decisions are made more quickly. Action is taken with more alacrity because the instructions come in writing.

But while this is all well and good, apart from the inescapable malady of e-mail overload, we have entered into an era where there seems to be the need for the creation of a ‘bible’ of sorts to direct the misguided about acceptable rules for e-mails. There is a lot of e-mail abuse going on. And to make matters worse, it ain’t pretty out there in the office which is now like the Wild, Wild West what with Blackberry-toting young (and old) execs who are wreaking havoc on business communications.

E-mail tracing matches can start anywhere from the crack of dawn and take up people’s attention for the better part of the work day. Let me not even get started on the really bad spelling that is unleashed in the heat of the moment of firing off a feisty e-mail to put Thompson in his/her place. So, while you draw for your Oxford (Dictionary) to put me in my place, let me lay down these few tips for e-mail etiquette.

Never respond to an e-mail emotionally
I know that somewhere in internet heaven (or hell) there are exceptions to this rule, but my experience has taught me that in the realm of business one should never, ever, ever fire off an emotional e-mail. Firstly, what you imagine to be your most caustic remark might just turn out to be downright comical and hilarious to the recipient, especially if in your haste you invent words that really make you look bad when they are printed (and forwarded around the office). On the other hand, it is probable that your response might be an over-reaction to the sender’s mail and you will forever live in regret if you shoot off an over-weight, over-the-top e-mail that will land like an, unguided and unexploded scud missile. Or it might just blow up in your face.

My advice is to write a draft e-mail of what you would really like to respond (no holds barred) and save it as a draft. Go for a walk, a smoke, a cup of coffee and if in half an hour you still feel the same way about your response, you probably need to re-evaluate yourself in that job. I will guarantee that you will not feel the same way when you return to your desk and you will more than likely not be led to send off that errant e-mail. Pick up the phone and call the sender or if you must, re-write a different and kinder version. If you still feel the same way about the original mail you have my permission to send off the rude e-mail to my e-mail address. I truly won’t mind as I already have a formidable collection of my own.

Watch your words
Email is meant for quick, simple communication. Many people are truly heartless and wicked and have made it their life’s mission and ambition to pepper us with all the big words they have ever learnt since elementary school. They are insistent that whether or not ‘super-cali-fragilistic’ is a word on this side of reality, they are darn well going to include it in their missive on July’s production report. Why? Well, it makes them look learned. Good Lord, please spare us from such characters. And forgive us our trespasses if we are guilty of these wordy sins.

As a general guide your e-mail response should take up roughly 4 or 5 paragraphs at most. Because of the limitations of formatting and layout, anything much longer than that is probably best sent as a separate attachment such as a Word file. Anyway, most people have a limited attention span with email - if they are receiving a lot of mail you want to get the main message explained in the shortest possible space.

Yes. Spelling and grammar matters
Have you ever read an e-mail from your manager or a co-worker that has left you wondering whether or not s/he is on pharmaceuticals that are not on the DEA’s ‘good-to-go list’? I have. In these e-mails written from a very dark place, there are oft-times no regard for the time-honoured rules of spelling. I will use commas as décor. Grammar be damned. I’ll make up my own, thank-you-very-much, they seem to say. Poor spelling and grammar show a lack of attention to detail and sends the wrong message about yourself and how you do business. Most email programs today have built-in spell checkers. You wouldn't send a letter that was poorly punctuated and uses no capital letters - why not make sure your email messages look professional too?
And by the way, sending an e-mail for business purpose is not like texting your friends to tell them about the latest lyme. So you can’t LOL or exclaim OMG!

Watch Those Forwards
Forwards can sometime be fun to read. Your friends and colleagues send them to you during the down-time at work but not every one loves to get them nor do all workplaces permit them. So word to the wise – do not send an e-mail blast of forwards that are downright tacky, lewd or tasteless to everyone on your contact list. Do not forward me a forward that I just forwarded you. Obviously you weren’t paying attention. And, yes, we really are now hip to that Chinese/African/Mongolian heir-to-the-throne-of-Punjabiwa who needs our personal banking information right now! So don’t send us any more of these. Ditto, e-mails which threaten us if we don’t send it on to 40 people within the next 40 minutes or 40 years of bad luck/bad sex will plague us. Enough already! We get it!

What do cc: and bcc: mean?
It is courteous to add e-mail addresses of your co-workers to the carbon copy 'cc:' field if these people need to know about the subject but they do not have to act on the contents of the mail. The (blind carbon copy) 'bcc:' field is useful where discretion is required. People whose e-mail addresses you place in this field are concealed from other recipients in the 'To', 'cc:' fields. Hope these tips helped.


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